Programs nominated to the Network to Freedom must exceed a minimum level of:
The NPS attempts to ensure that the history of the Underground Railroad is portrayed accurately by members of the Network to Freedom. Consequently, the source material on which interpretation and presentation of information are based must be delineated in the application. Sources should include primary materials—letters, diaries, autobiographies, official records, where possible and scholarly publications. The sources should be as specific to the story presented in the program or facility as possible. This is, perhaps, the most important aspect of the application for supporting inclusion of the facility or program in the Network to Freedom, and often is the aspect most overlooked.
The NPS recognizes that many facilities and programs around the country operate on a volunteer basis and rely on scarce resources. Therefore, rather than require professional qualifications for staff, the Network to Freedom focuses on a professional approach to activities such as interpretation or curation that will indicate a high-quality presentation of the history of the Underground Railroad.
For example, basic professional standards that museums, archives and libraries should meet are:
a catalog system for their collections such as a finding aid or index for collections and
an ability to demonstrate the provenance, or origin, source, authenticity, acquisition history and ownership of their collections.
All facilities and programs must be in operation and not solely in the planning stages. To this end, they must be able to demonstrate a past and ongoing commitment to interpreting or studying the Underground Railroad. Programs must have occurred at least once in the past and have a schedule for future activities.
Due to their specialized nature, programs must meet two additional requirements:
- Applications must demonstrate that the program has a record of consultation with appropriate partners, and community or regional support. Consultation is a critical stage in the development of any interpretation program. It is beneficial to consult with local residents and discuss potential impacts of new tours or programs on the area. It is important to include the perspectives of various local groups on Underground Railroad history. “Ownership” and interpretation of history is often a matter at issue.
- A system must be established for the evaluation of the program’s effectiveness. The goal of any interpretive or educational program is to increase knowledge and understanding of the audience. In order for program staff to ascertain whether the presentation of the information is accomplishing the educational objectives, a systematic method of feedback is essential.Insights gained from the evaluations should be used to refine the program in the future.Analyses of, and samples from, evaluations also assist NPS staff in reviewing program applications.